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With 3 games left, what the Checkers must do to clinch final playoff berth

With three regular-season games left, coach Ulf Samuelson and the Charlotte Checkers can still make the American Hockey League playoffs. The Checkers haven’t made the playoffs since 2013.
With three regular-season games left, coach Ulf Samuelson and the Charlotte Checkers can still make the American Hockey League playoffs. The Checkers haven’t made the playoffs since 2013. jmiller@mcclatchy.com

The Charlotte Checkers’ hopes for making the American Hockey League playoffs for the first time since 2013 rest on the outcome of their games during the final week of the regular season.

With three games left, the Checkers cling to a one-point lead over the Cleveland Monsters for the final playoff spot in the Central Division. The Monsters played at 5 p.m. Sunday, but Charlotte will hold its spot in the standings regardless of that result because of an edge in points percentage.

The Checkers’ playoff push benefited from a 4-0 week against the San Antonio Rampage and the Texas Stars. Charlotte finishes its home schedule with a franchise-best 27-10-1 record.

Tuesday: Andrew Miller’s first-period goal handed the Checkers a 1-0 lead, which they held until the Rampage scored less than three minutes into the third. Aleksi Saarela broke the tie moments later, and Haydn Fleury’s goal with about four minutes left sealed Charlotte’s 3-1 win.

Wednesday: Two second-period goals by Patrick Dwyer gave the Checkers a 2-0 lead, which they stretched to 4-1 late in the third period. After San Antonio pulled within two goals, Dwyer scored an empty-net goal with 15 seconds left, cementing Charlotte’s 5-2 victory and his first hat trick since March 21, 2009, against Albany.

Saturday: Philip Samuelsson kick-started the Checkers’ four-goal first period with a score about five minutes in. Eight Charlotte players ultimately scored in a 9-3 win against the Stars, marking the most goals by the team this season.

Sunday: After Dwyer and Phil Di Giuseppe pushed the Checkers’ lead to 2-0 in the second period, Texas cut the deficit to one with about a minute left. However, Connor Brickley scored seven seconds later, securing a 3-1 win for Charlotte.

What’s next: The Checkers conclude the regular season with a three-game road trip, starting with Wednesday’s 7 p.m. contest against the Grand Rapids Griffins. Charlotte then faces the Griffins at 7 p.m. Friday before playing the Chicago Wolves at 8 p.m. Saturday.

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